Today I’ll be interviewed by The Sisters Interview group starting at 9pm EDT as part of their Branch of Laurels series.
While this is from the perspective of the Middle Ages and Renaissance recreation group I participate in, it will show how I came to become an Independent Researcher focusing on Nalbinding around the world. The Sisters particularly asked me to focus on my travels to see extant objects. So there will be lots of stories about that; illustrated with pictures (some of the finds themselves where copyright allows).
If you watch the live version, there will be the opportunity to submit questions. The interview is being recorded and will be available on Facebook and YouTube (after a few days).
Back in January of 2019, I had the honor of meeting up with Cary Karp to examine several items that had caught our attention in the significant collection of “nalbound” socks in the Museum der Kulturen, Basel.
While we both had separate reasons for wanting to visit this particular collection, it was the baby sock, Inv. No. III 16705, that brought us to arrange a joint visit as it appeared to be of a structure that has previously been misattributed as nalbound. Much to our amusement, a baby has clearly been in that sock! When I inserted the endoscope to get a picture of the inside of the toe to assist with understanding the structural details (yes, the fabric of this one is still quite flexible), my view was obscured by fuzz.
While there have been delays, Cary and I have been working on writing up our findings regarding the misattributed baby sock (pictured). My reports on the details of the nalbound socks in their collection are also in the works.
As reported in Cary’s blog post shortly after, https://loopholes.blog/2019/01/the-second-bootee/, the baby sock made it into both of our presentations at the TAES seminar a few days later. I’ve already posted the link to my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, here. The baby sock shows up briefly on slide 17 at about minute 26:47. The seminar had some issues with recording causing Cary’s presentation to be in one file with the prior unrelated presentation. Thus Cary’s presentation, The Museological Value of Misattribution, begins at minute 18:47 of that recording with his slides starting shortly thereafter.
Cary has also written a blog post and subsequent article on a pair of baby booties from late 18th century Scotland that were also misattributed as nalbinding in the 1950’s: https://loopholes.blog/2018/11/two-bootees/
The Textile Museum is working to put images of its collection online. Luckily that now includes multiple Islamic Era Egyptian socks. Beautiful photos of the blue and white cotton knitted socks and several compound nalbound socks.
The pilot site does not yet have their complete textile collection, but it does have several stunning examples of blue and white stranded knitting (interlooping) and four nalbound (interconnected looping) socks to add to the list of the Egyptian corpus. There is also one slip-stitch crochet sock that is going to require additional investigation into its provenance.* The catalog data is not necessarily up to date, which is not surprising given the volume and speed with which they are entering the records. They also have several Andean artifacts of interest as well.
Note: The pilot site doesn’t seem to react well to Facebook. So if you are viewing it there, you may get the same sock repeated. Try viewing it via WordPress or a different browser.
The language is Swedish of course. Anna Lilliehöök gives a bit of a tour of the museum and several of the artifacts therein. At around minute 6:50, she brings out a leather sole with a nalbound fragment stitched to it. She speculates that it might be the remains of an insole or perhaps a sock/stocking to which a leather sole had been applied. She tells us that stitch used is Mammen; which is UOO/UUOO F2 in Hansen’s classification. The dating is 1300-1400 CE.
Edited to add this lovely photo taken by Cary Karp. You can even see the fine sewing thread mentioned.
What I find very interesting is that the row appears to follow the edge of the leather sole. That direction under and along the arch does not match the row direction that I see in contemporaneous nalbound socks. So for now, I think I find the insole theory more plausible. Nonetheless, this is a very interesting find as it appears to have been sewn to the leather when the find was whole and new. The concept of an integral insole sewn into a leather turn-shoe is very intriguing.
Sometimes one just needs to share one’s notes. After January’s post on Nalbound Camel Muzzles, people were asking to see more of the brightly colored nose caps. I had gathered many more images of camels in muzzles while doing the research than I could possibly use in the post. And truthfully more since, as I too enjoy seeing them and am still curious as to the breadth of their usage. However, the aggregated volume of all those camel muzzles is just too large for another blog post.
Thus, this post is to direct you to my new site page, More Camel Muzzles, where you will find images and video clips, both embedded and linked depending permissions. Each link includes a brief description, including colors and location if known. So far, the images predominantly come from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman, but some appear in images from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria. Unfortunately, many of the stock photos do not contain information as to where they were taken. Additionally, we have relatively few photos in general from certain regions, so their lack of inclusion may be due to a lack of access versus a lack of use.
The photos are broken out by category depending on how closely they could be identified. Starting with the nalbound muzzles where the images are close enough and clear enough to identify as worked in Mammen stitch (UOO/UUOO F2), both on and off a camel. Then those that can be identified as a Loop & Twist stitch (more often found across North Africa than Arabia), those identifiable as some form of Simple Looping follow. This section ends with a large collection of muzzles of the same style and appearance as the Mammen stitch muzzles (predominately), but the images are either too far away or insufficiently clear (or I was too tired at the time I added them) to be certain of the stitch determination.
Also included, because they are both interesting and to show how identifiable the nalbound muzzles are, is a selection of Not Nalbound Muzzles. Starting with the Ply-Split muzzles, a technique I first ran into with Peter Collingwood’s publications, this section also contains Crochet muzzles, which all appear to be from Turkey, and a brief selection of other styles of muzzles for comparison.
Searching for more examples of Romano-Coptic socks can lead to many surprises. A quick mention here, a random unidentified image there, the numbers go up as information is found and the numbers go down as disparate pieces are matched together. This is one of those cases where the numbers went down.
Not too long before that, I had run across an image of the bottom of a two-toed nalbound sock that had been saved without any identifying information. Tracking the image down led me to Dr. Margret Maitland, Principal Curator of the Ancient Mediterranean, and Head of the Mediterranean, Africa, Americas, and Oceania Section in the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh, but no further information on the image.
Then, in October of 2018, I ran across another photo in my Twitter feed. It clearly was the other side of the same sock. And yet, still no identifying information; although it was obvious the sock had clearly undergone conservation since the original image.
By November 2018, my search had turned up a then recent entry for A.1911.315 into the National Museums Scotland’s Online Catalog. At the time, there was only one image of the sock available. However, the catalog entry did note that the sock was from the Hilton Price collection. So where I had thought I might have two socks to add to the corpus, I only had one. The numbers go up and the numbers go down as images show data pieces are not a match, that a mention is not actually nalbinding, or as in this case matches are made between separate mentions. (I am currently tracking around 110 separate items in the Romano-Coptic corpus, but the numbers go up and the numbers go down.)
As I was preparing my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, I reached out to Dr. Maitland to request permission to include a photo of this sock. She was kind enough to forward me twelve beautiful photographs to use in my research. These quickly made it into the online catalog for public viewing as well.
There are, as of this writing, 19 images of the sock available online in the the National Museum of Scotland’s catalog entry for this sock: https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/collection-search-results/?item_id=404856. Several of them are quite close up. The sock clearly shows ridges evidencing a middle, not top edge, connection between rows (excluding in the back and forth short row construction of the heel). This is similar to, though likely not exactly the same connection as, the stitch described as being used in the 13th century nalbound fragment from Müsen, Germany;2 mentioned as it is a mid connection most likely familiar to nalbinders. It is also at least similar to, and quite possibly the same as, the stitch used in five Coptic socks currently located in the Museum der Kulturen in Basel, Switzerland.3 These are a Mammen/Korgen/Müsen base stitch with an M1 connection: UOO/UUOO M1.4
One might say the sock is inside out, although we do not know which side the maker and wearer intended to be the “right” side. The exterior of the sock is showing the technical back of the fabric as made. Most prominently this is noticeable in the ridging as the ridges of a mid connection are formed on the technical back as worked. The direction of the spiral start on the toe also indicates that the current exterior is the technical back as nalbinding is conventionally worked from left to right and the toe is spiraling right to left. Of the four socks using a visually similar stitch in the Museum der Kulturen, four show the ridges on the outside (two adult split toed socks, one undivided children’s sock, and one undivided incomplete children’s sock) and one has the ridges to the inside (undivided children’s sock).5
On April 7th, 2020, the BBC Scotland posted a ‘One Night in the Museum’ video on their YouTube channel that features the sock for the first minute. It shows some lovely closeups of the toes.
Visitors to the Ancient Egypt Rediscovered exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland occasionally post additional photographs of the sock online as it is now on display. The one below was an exceptionally fine example posted as a response to a tweet of another sock from the Romano-Coptic corpus currently found in the British Museum.
My sincerest thanks to Jennifer Blaikie who posted the link to the “The Lost Sock” blog post where I would come across it and to Kirsten Donaldson Wheal who posted it where Jennifer would run across it. It gave me just the push I needed to finish up this post. If you, dear readers, happen to run across interesting nalbinding tidbits, I’d love to hear about them.
This stitch description has yet to be independently verified. However, it is the stitch most likely recognized by nalbinding craft workers as being a mid connection. Mid connections are unfortunately never specified as to taken from the left or right, but either is possible and distinguishing important. More information on the Müsen fragment is available in: Böttcher, Gudrun. “Nadelbindungstechnik: Mittelalterlicher Textilfund in Müsen – Nachbildunsversuch” in Experimentelle Archäologie: Bilanz 1991 Archäologische Mitteilungen aus Nordwestdeutschland. Beiheft 6. by Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde und Vorgeschichte. Oldenburg: Isensee, 1991. ISSN: 0170-5776
There are very few published photographs of the Museum der Kulturen’s collection of nalbound socks. The largest collection is in this article: Flury-v. Bültzingslöwen, Regina, and Dr. Edgar Lehmann. “Nichtgewebte Textilien vor 1400 / IX. Teil.” Wirkerei- und Strickerei- Technik: Fachzeitschrift für die Fabrikationspraxis und Betriebstechnik der Wirkerei- und Strickerei-Industrie 1955 (5): 38-41.
Böttcher, Gudrun. “Nadelbindung – Koptische Textilien un Museum der Kulturen Basel und un Stadtischen Museum Simeonstift, Trier” in Archaeological Textiles Newsletter, No. 39 (Autumn) 2004. There is another fragment extant that appears to be in this stitch in Finland. It is described in Vahter , T . ‘Tuukkalan neulakinnas’, Finska Fornminnesforeningens Tidskrift X L, 1934: 236-243. See also: Vajanto, Krista. “Nålbinding in Prehistoric Burials – Reinterpreting Finnish 11th–14th-century AD Textile Fragments” in Sounds Like Theory. XII Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group Meeting in Oulu 25.–28.4.2012. Edited by Janne Ikäheimo, Anna-Kaisa Salmi & Tiina Äikäs. Monographs of the Archaeological Society of Finland 2, 21–33. ISBN 978-952-67594-7-0 (PDF) ISBN 978-952-67594-6-3 (hardback)
The Museum der Kulturen posted a blog post about our visit to see the collection in January of 2019. https://www.mkb.ch/de/blog/2019/q1/sockenforscher.html While the blog post focuses on another sock in the Museum der Kulturen collection, the images do include a few of the socks mentioned in the background.
Three wise men, riding on camels, followed an Eastern star… so they say.
This last year’s examinations included several examples of nalbound Omani sand socks in addition to the Romano-Coptic Egyptian socks I’ve been concentrating on of late. I spent some time searching for comparables and stumbled across a rare image of sand socks being worn. Searching for more I realized that there is a reluctance to take images of people’s feet (not that surprising given the cultural issues). However, in my searches I was reminded that sand socks are not the only traditional nalbound objects in the Empty Quarter of Arabia. Anti-spitting muzzles for camels are another traditional craft that uses nalbinding quite frequently (amongst other interesting techniques such as ply-spliting, etc.) and it turns out that people are much less reluctant, eager even, to take pictures of camel muzzles than they are of people’s feet.
These camel muzzles are almost always identified as knitting; though I’ve yet to see a knitted one. And while I did see one source that called them crochet (a technique that has some minor representation in modern camel muzzles though not commonly amongst those photographed), none of that particular article’s accompanying photos were representative of anything but nalbinding. This misidentification of technique obscures the living tradition of this ancient craft.
Based on the imagery online, current trends in camel muzzles involve the use of brightly colored acrylic yarn. A more traditional one now in the Pitt Rivers Museum, 2003.9.132, was collected in 1994 and is made of hand-spun yarn. This is similar to the majority of the sand socks I have examined. Those in the Pitt Rivers that were collected between 1985 and 1986 are also primarily hand spun (2003.9.134 .1, 2003.9.135, 2003.9.136, 2003.9.137, as well as the recent pair at TRC, Leiden TRC 2018.2807a-b). Although, the Pitt Rivers also has the brilliant red/green striped pair, 2003.9.138, which are entirely acrylic and the pair acquired in 2011 and now in the British Museum, 2012,6004.5.a-b, incorporates some black acrylic at the cuff of otherwise hand-spun socks.
Our knowledge of historical nalbound artifacts from the Arabian penninsula is so negligible as to be non-existent at this time. However, nalbinding’s general obscurity also means I believe it’s less likely to have been something picked up from travelers or invaders. Nalbinding has a known history in Egypt & Sudan, and current traditions not just in the Empty Quarter, but also further into the Middle East in Iran (I’ll be writing about traditional Iranian giveh in the future).
The search for as many examples of camel muzzles as I could find took me places I never expected. It’s not often that my nalbinding research turns up celebrities. But this search found me glancing through Paris Hilton and Martha Stewart’s vacation photos amongst others.
The nalbound camel muzzles all appeared to be worked at rather large row heights. Between that and the acrylic yarn, in the closer photos it was easy to see the stitch used. I was a bit surprised to find that in each and every case where it was clear enough to see, the stitch used was UOO/UUOO F2, more commonly known at the Mammen stitch (after a single find of the same stitch in Mammen, Denmark).
However, that finding is consistent with the socks I examined as well. I did come across one image, that while it was not clear enough to make a determination from, did appear to potentially be of a simpler compound version than the predominant Mammen. As of yet, it appears the socks examined by Peter Collingwood are of a stitch atypical of current use.
So on this day of Epiphany, the Feast of the Three Kings, I bring you the gift of brilliantly colored nalbound camel muzzles. If you’d like to see more, a simple search for “camel muzzle” will bring up a beautiful bouquet.
I’m very excited to start this year off by calling your attention to a particularly spectacular and significant pair of nalbound socks. While the known corpus of finds out of Egypt continues to expand as growing interest encourages examinations of those random boxes and unopened drawers that have been languishing, next to nothing was available about nalbinding further up the Nile. And now, not only do we have our first known piece of medieval nalbinding found in Sudan, it’s a pair of compound nalbound socks decorated with intarsia.
These beautiful blue wool socks with yellow and green accents, KH 18868, are currently on display in the “Hidden Textile Treasures in the collections of the Sudan National Museum” exhibition which opened in Khartoum on October 24, 2019 and will run through May 2020. The green crosses on the fronts and yellow crosses on the backs of the ankle shaft are worked as an integral part of the fabric.
The exhibition is curated by Dr. Magdalena Woźniak, as part of her broader Nubian Textiles project.1 I had the honor to meet her last January at the TAES seminar in Copenhagen. She brought this pair to my attention after my presentation, Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, introducing a broader understanding of the wide variety within nalbound finds from Egypt and surrounding regions. In particular, the embroidered crosses on the two socks2 found at Deir el-Dyk caught her eye given the intarsia crosses of this pair.
These Nubian socks were found on the feet of an adult woman buried in the medieval Christian cemetery in Semna South.3 Dating to around the 11th century AD is based on the type of burial and the last architectural phase of the Christian church that was built there in the 9th-11th centuries AD. 4
This extraordinary pair of socks constitutes one of four unique fabrics that were allowed to be transported to Poland for conservation as part of the project.5 Conservation complete, they returned to Sudan in time for the exhibition opening and are now housed in sealed and properly lit display cases for preservation.
Another small picture of the conserved socks on display is included in IKŚiO PAN’s exhibition announcement (in Polish). The further linked description pdf (also in Polish) includes two closer photos, one pre- and one post-conservation, showing the technical front and technical back of one of the integrally worked crosses. (See also link and link). We are currently working on an article with further details.
This will be one of many articles I will be working on this year. Last year, I was honored to have the opportunity to examine a large number of other examples of extant objects. However, the travel required, and life’s demands, meant that I did not have much time to analyze and write up the data I acquired. I look forward to being able to bring together more data regarding historical nalbinding.
Also, a huge thank you to all those that brought me information on finds new and old this last year.
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Today a post came across my feed telling me of the recent excavation of a late Medieval (15th century) landfill in the Hanseatic town of Tallinn, Estonia that includes nalbound fragments. The linked report is the initial summary of the finds and other information collected in the 2018 excavation season.
The collection has not been fully catalogued so there is no precise analysis of the artifacts as of yet. However, 4 items of fragmentary nalbinding were found, now in 21 pieces. Additionally, a knitted cap, which is pictured in the article, and a few knitted socks, gloves, and mittens can be identified out of the 43 knitted items (70 fragments thereof) that were also found in the landfill. These are but a few of the approximately 2000 total textile fragments, primarily woven with some felt.
In this season of giving, I am extremely grateful for those that bring me gifts of information regarding nalbound finds. This year has been made even more fruitful by your sharp eyes and generous spirits.
I had attempted to reach out to the Warrington before I left, but as the timing had been short, I had not been able to make contact. So after my appointment at the Whitworth Art Gallery to view their collection, my mother and I met up with Regina De’Giovanni and, after a quick lunch, we made our way to Warrington to see if by chance the sock I had heard of was actually on display. The Warrington is a lovely museum. If you ever get the chance to go, I highly recommend it.
Thorough examination of the Egyptian displays did not reveal a sock hiding anywhere. But, as they are rather crowded displays, we decided to ask. The lovely young lady on duty said that there was no sock on display. However, if we were interested in seeing it, she had a form we could fill out and she would get it to the collections manager to see if a visit could be arranged. She was surprised that I had the inventory number on me. Given that I would be leaving Manchester in just a few days, we did not expect there was any chance I’d get to see it.
And yet, before we had even finished viewing the rest of the collections, Craig Sherwood found us. He knew exactly the sock I was asking about. It was in a box with some of their other Coptic textiles. He was going to the store rooms the next day and could bring it to the Museum the day after that. Would I be available in two days time? Would I? Luckily our flight out of Manchester was not until Wednesday evening and we had no specific plans for that morning.
It was rainy on that Wednesday and we missed the best train. After finding a place to set up (all the exam rooms were full), we proceeded to have a lovely time discussing Coptic socks and examining the precious little example in their collection. As this sock had not previously had a photograph published, I had very little information about it beforehand. I got to learn what its current condition was, the fineness of the yarn used, and which foot it was for. It had clearly been worn and the dust of Egypt was still on it.
I would like to extend my warmest thanks and appreciation to Craig Sherwood and the other employees of the Warrington Museum & Art Gallery for their assistance and gracious hospitality giving me the opportunity to examine this beautiful blue sock in their collection.
I was honored to be granted permission to include a photograph of the sock in my presentation (shown on the 5th slide), Charting the Nalbinding of the Nile, to help round out a visual summary of the variety of nalbound socks from Egypt and the surrounding regions.